Dennis Hopper's Final Ride

In case you missed the news in the hubbub of your Memorial Day cookout, Dennis Hopper died Saturday morning, May 29th, at his home in Venice Beach, California. Hopper, who had been battling prostate cancer for nearly a year, was 74.

From Wikipedia: "Dennis Lee Hopper (May 17, 1936 - May 29, 2010) was an American actor, filmmaker and artist. As a young man, Hopper became interested in acting, making his first television appearance in 1955, and appeared in two films featuring James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956)."

His best-known work was Easy Rider (1969), which he directed and starred in, teaming up with Peter Fonda, Terry Southern, and Jack Nicholson. Hopper garnered directorial kudos for his improvisational methods and innovative editing. Both the Captain America bike and the Billy Bike featured in the film were designed and built by a bike builder named Ben Hardy. The 1962 1200cc Harleys were actually purchased from the Los Angeles Police department, because Harley-Davidson refused to provide free bikes for the film.

Fonda was an experienced rider, but even so, the seriously raked and stretched Captain America was no picnic. (One of the Captain America bikes was later restored by Peter Fonda and sold to John Parham, who placed it in the National Motorcycle Museum (nationalmcmuseum.org)in Anamosa, Iowa.)

Hopper, on the other hand, didn't have the same riding skills, so his bike got less radically chopped. The entire movie production was plagued by creative differences and personal acrimony between Fonda and Hopper, and his accelerating abuse of drugs and alcohol. Still, it won an award at the Cannes Film Festival and "with its portrait of counterculture heroes raising their middle fingers to the uptight middle-class hypocrisies, Easy Rider became the cinematic symbol of the 1960s, a celluloid anthem to freedom, macho bravado and anti-establishment rebellion," according to one critic.

At James Dean's urging, he'd taken up photography in his teens, and in his later years became a prolific photographer, painter, and sculptor. His photography is known for portraits from the 1960s, while his painting style ranges from abstract impressionism to photorealism.

Rest in Peace, Dennis Hopper: celebrated Hollywood insider, yet still the consummate Hollywood rebel.

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